Janet (j4) wrote,
Janet
j4

Sex encoding initiative

I can't remember now if I wrote about this at the time (I suspect not) but last month I was on the interview panel for my replacement at my previous job. Yes, I know, that's unorthodox; but a) they decided they'd changed the job description enough that it didn't matter, b) this was the third round of interviews to try to get someone to fill the post and I think they were getting desperate, and c) I'm female. The third point wasn't explicitly stated, but it was almost certainly a factor, just as it was in the composition of the panel that interviewed me for the current job. (For that, I got the inside word on the people I'd be facing in the interview from a friend in the department. "A and B are the real geeks, the ones you'd be actually working with. C's a project manager. And D's a woman.")

I don't get it, to be honest. I'd much rather be interviewed by people (of any gender) who might know whether I was capable of doing the job than by somebody else who's been chosen for the fact that they happen to have breasts. Besides, if I'm applying for a job in a mostly-male department, or at least somewhere sufficiently biased in that direction that they have trouble digging up a woman who can reasonably be on the interview panel, then surely it's actually giving a false impression to say "look, we are all inclusive, we have women too". If I'd wanted to do the work I'm doing now in a mostly-female environment I'd've been looking to get a job as IT officer in a convent school ...... sorry, where was I?

Oh yes: interviews. Today I was asked to be on another interview panel, not in the department, but for an external project; and this time I was explicitly told that it was (partly) because I was female. (Though to be fair, the other reason was that I fulfilled the "technical enough to know if people are bullshitting" criterion, which is the point of the exercise.) "They said it'd be even better if I could think of a woman," said the person who was asking me, "and I thought, well, I think of women all the time! Ha ha! And then I thought of you." Arf.

Really, though, being singled out as female like that just confuses me (and particularly when it's done so clumsily). It's not that I don't feel like "a woman" (at work or elsewhere); it's just that at work, I'm first and foremost a geek. When my boss talks about Hot Chicks Who Know The Command Line (NB: I started this conversation, so don't blame him) he's not talking to a Chick Who Knows The Command Line (hot or otherwise), he's talking to another geek. That overrides the biological configuration. Okay, so he's a PC and I'm a Mac, but we're both running Linux. My femaleness is a data point, sure; it comes up (hurr hurr) in the sort of literate geeky banter that goes on all the time; the sort of conversation that sees the journey from the sublime to the ridiculous as the kind of shuttle run for which they should put on free buses every 10 minutes. The general tone of a lot of my conversation with colleagues is, well, let's say "putting the 'rude' into 'erudite'"; there, gender (and sex, and sex) is as much fair game as anything else. But it's not the point. The point is the wordplay; everything else is just a tool. Oh, behave.

Part of me wants to write more about this because I find that sort of environment, that sort of conversation, the sort of geeky intellectual ribaldry so much fun, and I wish I could share that. (Okay, in one sense it's outrageous that three people should be using a combined total of approximately 100 years' worth of education to see who can make the cleverest, most intertextual and interdisciplinary knob jokes. That's decadence. That's why it's fun. And hey, we do all do other things with our knowledge, too...) Other parts of me are terrified of misrepresenting the sorts of things that are said, and provoking outrage -- and accusations of all sorts of -isms. The weirdest thing, though, is outrage on my behalf by other people. "They shouldn't be allowed to say Things Like That to you!" "But I'm not remotely offended. I think it's fucking hilarious." "Well you should be offended!" "Why?" "...."

Part of the argument seems to be that Other People Might Be Offended. Well, sure. Plenty of people would be offended if I said to them some of the things I say to my friends and family. That's why I don't say those things except to friends and family. It's all about register. Part of the process of developing social relationships is the process of finding where people's boundaries are, probing them; sometimes, depending on the nature of the relationship, it involves deliberately pushing at them, encroaching, invading; sometimes it's more about keeping one's distance and maintaining a stretch of neutral territory (or bullet-riddled no-man's-land) inbetween.

All these tactics are fine. But personally I don't like trying to conduct conversations from either side of no-man's-land -- nay, nor no-woman's-land either, though by your smiling, etc., etc., sigh. I'd rather ride out into that wasted land and meet the other side for a skirmish -- or a handshake, or a hug. Whatever sort of contact ends up being made.



[I don't feel I've expressed any of this very well, but constraints of time and tiredness are going to defeat me and this is exactly the sort of post that would never make it through the internal filter if I wasn't determined to post something every day, so posting it is kind of the point of the exercise. Think of it as a work in progress.]
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